It all started with Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton.
The Seattle Supersonics duo was wreaking havoc on NBA courts in the early 90's. I was an awkward, lanky kid, dreaming of hitting a growth spurt, reaching an unrealistic height of 6'10", and one day playing for the team I grew up idolizing. My interest in football was raw, but ready to be examined. The green and gold colors of the Supersonics built a bridge to another team in the Pacific Northwest who donned the green and yellow. A 9-4 Ducks team (1994 edition) boasted players like Jason Maas, Mike Phelps and Kenny Wheaton. This was far before the days of Coach Visor, cool uniforms or Magic Mariota. My knowledge of the college football game was limited, but would grow as the seasons passed me by. I'll admit it; my adoration for the team we all know and love started out with their colors. But fandom has to start somewhere.
I was a Michigan youth who couldn't care less about the Wolverines, Pistons, Spartans, or Lions. My attention within the sports realm was on the Supersonics and Ducks. Every year, my excitement in Oregon's gridion team would grow. Significantly. Names like Joey Harrington, Akili Smith and Dennis Dixon became names I associated with hope. From 2,307 miles away, I would root for the team that took the field in Eugene.
Like most of you, I've had my frustrations with both performances and players. Like most of you, I've expected more out of guys who were really no more than college kids. With Cliff Harris' "We Smoked It All" incident to Lagarrette Blount's Bronco-punch, I shook my head with disgust. When Jeremiah Masoli got busted for stealing a guitar and a laptop, I wondered aloud who would lead our offense. I was one of Colt Lyerla's biggest fans, but he made it impossible to defend his actions, and I instead found myself praying for his life and well-being, as opposed to rooting for his on-field success. I initially scratched my head at Chip Kelly's hiring, but the uncertainty only lasted about a month. Four successful years later, when word broke that he was talking to three NFL teams, I doubted that anyone could possibly replace him, and as a pathetic act of desperation, I found myself listening to Mat Kearney's "Chip Don't Go" on repeat, hoping he would stick around.
I know, I know. It's just a game, and it's ridiculous to get all worked up over something that really -in the grand scheme of things- doesn't matter. Who am I to be upset if one Mister Charles Kelly wanted to take on a greater challenge for himself? Why should a Saturday afternoon loss to Stanford leave me feeling salty and bitter on Saturday night? Why am I more concerned with Lyerla's lack of on-field focus than I am with the fact that he has some real, life-threatening demons? Because that's fandom; that's why. You get emotionally invested in an organization or team and it begins to mean something. You get up and cheer when they score an 81-yard touchdown. You bury your face in your hands when they get sacked for a loss. You find yourself connecting with certain players, and even certain coaches. You look forward to Saturday, even when it's only Sunday morning. You wear a green t-shirt with a big, yellow "O" on the front of it when all of your friends and coworkers are sporting either maize and blue or green and white.
Last night (or afternoon, for all of you Pacific-time folks) was the culmination of my fandom of the Oregon Ducks. Not only is this arguably the most talented Oregon Ducks teams we have ever fielded, with arguably the best player to ever put on a Ducks jersey, but this was a team we could all be proud of. I watched the game with my fiance and her family, and honestly, it was a great feeling to share my love of this team with people who may not be aware of Oregon's sheer awesomeness if they didn't know me. And I spread that awesomeness at work, too.
80% of my closet is a mixture of green and yellow. My Golden Retriever sports an Oregon Ducks collar. I have a huge Ducks flag hanging on the wall of my bedroom. I've always been proud to be a fan of this team. Last night was a wonderful apex of that pride.
This current team is a unit that is void of the druggies, thieves, and knuckleheads we've had to endure over the years. No off-field incidents, arrests, or negative publicity. Marcus Mariota -and excuse my bias- is one of the most likable athletes in all of sports. He's talented, he's humble, he's successful, he's our first Heisman, he's composed. Helfrich proved to skeptics like me that he could lead this team where we wanted them to be all along. Without key players like Bralon Addison, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Devon Allen (sans the opening play), and Pharaoh Brown, our Oregon Ducks made guys like Darren Carrington, Erick Dargan and Thomas Tyner look like stars. We've come to expect greatness out of Mariota and freshman-phenom Royce Freeman, but the Rose Bowl was as much a team-effort as we've ever seen from this team. You can support this team for so many reasons.
And I did. And do. And I know that you do, too.
Hi. My name is Jase. I live in Michigan and for the better part of two decades, I have been a fan of the Oregon Ducks. Through the disappointing seasons, the ever-changing uniforms, the heart-breaking losses, the bowl game victories, the ATQ PANIC, the significant injuries, the evolution of the hurry-up offense, the key recruits, the hope of a new season...through it all. Everything. And it brings me, and us, to this very point. This is our greatest chance at winning the College Football Championship. There is a better vibe going into the game against Ohio State than there was when we traded blows with Cam Newton and Auburn. There is reason for hope and excitement.
Cheers to you, ATQ, for sharing this ride with me. Here's to one more victory to close out this season.